Six Must-Visit Destinations For India's Biggest Festivals
Pack your bags and soak in the festive fervour
Dev Deepavali, Uttar Pradesh
The Ganga Aarti in Varanasi draws huge crowds through the year, but 15 days after Diwali, a special event takes place on the ghats of the Ganga. On the full moon in the Hindu month of Kartik, when pearly white rays of the moon glisten on the waves of the river, Dev Deepavali brings the residents of Varanasi to the Ganga, to light thousands of earthen lamps on the steps leading to the river.
Dev Deepavali celebrations on the ghats of river Ganga. (Photo: Alamy)
According to local legend, this is the day the gods descend to earth to take a dip in the holy river. Go for a short river ride in a small boat and watch the aarti and numerous glittering lamps floating on the water. This year, Dev Deepavali falls on 12 November.
Durga Puja, West Bengal
Visit Kolkata during Durga Puja if only to experience the unique joy of pandal hopping. With more than a thousand extravagant pandals, that are artistic in their own way, each with an altar to the goddess Durga, Kolkata attracts people from all over the world this time of year.
Look for the creativity on display at each pandal, participate in the exhibitions, shop at the bazaars and indulge in delicious Kolkata food—Bengali, Anglo-Indian, Chinese and Mughlai—and watch the city come together for a week of revelry.
Raas-Garba, a nine-day long dance festival, makes the Navaratri celebration in Gujarat extremely colourful. With intertwined motifs of Krishna and various goddesses, nearly every village and urban neighbourhood in the state sets up a Raas-Garba with a small shrine in the centre.
A garba dance performance during Navaratri
Learn a few steps so you can join the groups dancing in circles. Twirl to the music and let the lights catch the mirrors and colours in the flounce of your flared chaniya skirts and kediyu tops. Look out for feats of skill and athleticism at these night-long dance fests. And if you are there for the 10th day, join the locals and enjoy feasting on a late breakfast of fafdas and jalebis.
When the year is about to end, many people make their way to Goa. But how can you truly enjoy its distinct Christmas spirit? Walk by the villages of South Goa in the evening, watch the local people lovingly set up cribs, lights and trees and soak in the Yuletide spirit.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church decorated and illuminated for Christmas celebrations
Attend midnight mass at one of the old churches—Basilica of Bom Jesus or Se Cathedral—then let your hair down at a Christmas dance. Held on the nights of 24 and 25 December, it’s not unusual for people to party the night away and come home only at the break of dawn.
Pongal, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu receives most of its rainfall in the winter months of November and December. During these months, the water-hungry paddy crop is grown in the region. Afterwards, on 14 January, the entire state marks its harvest festival. Pongal (meaning ‘abundance’) is celebrated with fresh rice, rich milk and jaggery, cooked in open pots in every home.
Handmade kolam designs made during Pongal
When the milk boils over and groups chorus ‘Pongalo Pongal’, join them in their celebration of prosperity. Look out for freshly washed and brightly decorated cows on the day after Pongal—farmers spend the day cherishing the cattle that contribute to their livelihoods. Don’t miss the giant kolams—intricate designs made of rice flour, that decorate the ground at the entrance to every home.
In the riverine valleys of Assam, fringed by the slopes of the eastern Himalayas, Bihu is celebrated three times a year, each for a different stage of the agricultural cycle. On 16 January, Bhogali Bihu marks the harvest.
Enjoy Assam’s traditional Bihu song and dance in January.
Community feasts, often lasting over a week, send waves of joy across the state. Tuck into an Uruka meal on the eve of Bhogali Bihu, and wake up the next morning to see a towering bonfire called the Meji, made from bamboo, haystacks and dried logs. Enjoy fresh rice rolls called pithas filled with sesame seeds, jaggery and coconut, while experiencing traditional Bihu songs and dances.